The second finest band to rise up and conquer from the town of Athens, Georgia, have announced they will tour no more. The B-52s may yet play one-off shows (well, three of them may, with fourth original member, Keith Strickland having given up the stage a few years back now, and fifth original, Ricky Wilson, sadly long gone from this mortal coil) but tours will be a thing of the past for Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson and Fred Schneider when their current run ends on November 11.
So to farewell them, Wind Back Wednesday returns to the scene of a Sydney show in 2004 when some in the room were patient, some were absent, and some (ok, one, who may have resembled this reviewer) were not always so pleased.
Was it the room? The shack? Both?
Hordern Pavilion, March 1, 2004
LOVE SHACK IS, in the perverse way of pop music, simultaneously one of the weakest songs in the B-52s catalogue and the most popular. As skilfully put together as any radio hit of the past two decades it is devoid of the personality that defined the B-52s for anyone who knew them before Love Shack and Roam gave them an unlikely incarnation as an early ‘90s chart band.
We’ll get to the effect of that shortly but there is one thing to say about Love Shack: it summed up one big mistake of their one-off Australian show. A love shack, or at least a cosier room of say a few thousand seats (the Enmore Theatre perhaps) would have been a far wiser choice as a venue than the wide-open spaces of the Hordern Pavilion.
Not just because the band clearly couldn’t fill the room (rumours persisted of furious ticket giveaways in the days before the show, though even that left a lot of room to move inside) but because it didn’t suit their sound, their personalities or the point of a B-52s show.
Sonically, The B-52s were all top and bottom and no middle, lacking the body to fill the room. Now this isn’t a band that ever traded on grunt and anywhere else it would not have mattered as the energy and dance-this-mess-around basslines would have done enough. But a big room needs more thickness in the sound and it never happened.
Then there’s the fact that, the two or three hits aside, what marked out the B-52s right from 1979’s self-titled debut was the cocked eyebrow and wicked smile of the artful iconoclasts laid over downright irresistible excuses to frug, boogaloo and “do the hypo-crit”. It was not songwriting or middle-of-the-road thinking.
(The original lineup of The B52s)
The group that could sound like a ‘50s b-grade sci-fi film come to life (Private Idaho), take the Peter Gunn theme into outer space (Planet Claire), mutate surf songs (52 Girls) or howl at us “why won’t you dance with me/I’m not no Limburger” were at their best when at their simplest musically and their silliest/most piquant lyrically.
Which brings us to the split personality of this show. Thankfully it was kicked off with three songs from the debut and the almost-as-good second album, Wild Planet, and the set was liberally spotted with songs from those albums, all played with verve. But it wasn’t hard to figure that the vast bulk of this audience was tolerating oddball moments such as Quiche Lorraine and Lava while waiting for the pleasant but frankly dull Roam, Deadbeat Club and Love Shack, at which point they went politely crazy.
It wouldn’t have mattered in a tighter space with bodies closer together and forced to dance one way or the other (the essence of a B-52s show surely). But despite the entertaining and often very campy efforts of the four original members and enough zestful early songs, too many factors intervened to clamp down on the show’s potential.